NEWPORT BEACH — Harbor officials don't get this type of application often.
Newport Beach yacht racer and businessman Chris
Harbor commissioners approved his application Wednesday night, which clears one hurdle in Welsh's audacious plan to dive to the deepest points of the world's five oceans.
With the high-tech "flying" submarine and its mother ship already purchased, Welsh has been assembling a team of scientists, engineers and filmmakers. But he is still missing one major component — a financial sponsor — and without one, his expedition may never depart.
"It's pretty captivating to go after it and see if you can get there," he said, later adding, "We have some major hurdles ahead of us, both financial and practical."
The "Five Dives Expedition" would send the first solo-piloted submersible to what is believed to be the deepest point in the earth's crust: the
Once his submersible's components have been pressure-tested, Welsh wants to practice dive in the calm waters off Newport's coast. Engineers are individually testing each part, and if funding comes through, they'll rig the vessel with 3-D
A real estate investor, Welsh has been funding the project himself but says he can't complete it without a backer. He has approached some potential sponsors, and would like to land someone like
Branson owns his own submarine in the Caribbean, which he charters along with its mother ship to people who pay more than $100,000 per week. The same engineer and designer, Graham Hawkes, of Hawkes Ocean Technologies, built Branson's and Welsh's submersibles.
Private funding, from a source like Virgin, may be the only way to reach the bottom of the major oceans.
Public sources often don't usually take purely exploratory missions, said Katrina Edwards, the director of the
"Most scientific work has been driven by hypotheses and very specific scientific objectives," she said. "But until you make observations, you're not going to know what hypotheses are important in the first place."
Edwards' research focuses on "extreme life" in the ground below these trenches. She wants to find out how far into the earth's crust microorganisms can live.
Nobody has been to the bottom of the Mariana Trench since 1960, when Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard and
That record lured the late adventurer
The two men shared common hobbies — international sailboat racing and piloting planes — and Welsh admired his moxie in both. Fossett, who grew up in Garden Grove, held a number of records.
Aboard the Cheyenne, he broke the time record for sailing around the world. He was also the first person to fly solo nonstop around the world in a balloon.
Welsh won the 2008 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race in Australia aboard his 65-foot sailboat Ragtime, and has competed in the U.S. and other races. He's also a glider, helicopter and seaplane pilot.
When first inquiring about buying the catamaran, Welsh learned that Fossett wanted to be the first person to dive solo to the bottom of the Mariana Trench and had procured a high-tech "flying" submarine.
But Fossett's preparations were cut short when he crashed a plane in the eastern Sierra
Besides Mariana, the other trenches he hopes to reach are: the
It will be at least another month before the Cheyenne is ready to be sailed to Newport Harbor from San Francisco, where it's now berthed.